New York City

New York City to Change Rules to Allow Churches to Rent Schools

Photo via Alliance Defending Freedom / RNS

Church members hold signs during a 2013 rally in the Bronx. Photo via Alliance Defending Freedom / RNS

Congregations in New York City that rent space in public schools will be able to hold Easter services this Sunday despite a ruling on March 30 by the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting an appeal from an evangelical church in the Bronx that sought to overturn a ban on after-hours worship services at public schools.

A spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio also said that the mayor would work to ensure that houses of worship could continue to rent space like any other group.

“Now that litigation has concluded, the city will develop rules of the road that respect the rights of both religious groups and nonparticipants,” Wiley Norvell said in response to the ruling.

“While we review and revise the rules, groups currently permitted to use schools for worship will continue to be able to worship on school premises.”

Pastor Robert Hall of the Bronx Household of Faith, which was the plaintiff in the case, said he was cautiously optimistic after the administration’s response.

“We are gratified that he is allowing the churches to stay,” Hall told The New York Times.

Bodies of 7 Children Killed in NYC ‘Hotplate’ Fire Arrive in Israel

Mourners attend the funeral for seven children killed in a Brooklyn fire in New

Mourners attend the funeral for seven children killed in a Brooklyn fire in New York on March 22. Image via RNS/Reuters.

The bodies of seven children from an Orthodox Jewish family who died in a fire in their home in Brooklyn have arrived in Israel for burial, Israeli network Arutz Sheva, and The Associated Press reported March 23.

Funeral services for the four boys and three girls of the Sassoon family, ages 5 to 16, were held in Brooklyn on March 22, before their bodies were flown to Israel.

The family lived in Jerusalem, where the children are to be buried, before moving to the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn two years ago. A friend said the family had planned to return to Israel to live.

Authorities identified the victims as girls Eliane, 16; Rivkah, 11; and Sara, 6; and boys David, 12; Yeshua, 10; Moshe, 8; and Yaakob, 5. All were found in upstairs bedrooms of the two-story, brick-and-wood, single-family home after the blaze — the city’s deadliest fire since 2007 — was reported early March 21.

Their 45-year-old mother, Gayle, a Brooklyn native, and 14-year-old sister, Tzipara, who jumped from a second-story window, remained in critical condition.

Our Lady of Revenue: NYC Churches Go on the Market, Leaving Parishioners Cynical

Photo via Robert Deutsch / USA Today / RNS

St. Thomas More church in New York City. Photo via Robert Deutsch / USA Today / RNS

Our Lady of Vilnius Church, built by families of immigrant Lithuanian longshoremen, started out a century ago as a beloved worship space. Now, it’s a coveted real estate asset.

In 2013, six years after the church was closed, it was sold for $13 million to one of the city’s biggest developers. The following year, that company flipped it like a pancake to another developer for $18.4 million.

Now the yellow brick church near the entrance to the Holland Tunnel awaits demolition to make way for an 18-story luxury apartment house.

“It makes you cynical,” says Christina Nakraseive, a former parishioner who supported the legal case against the church closing until it was rejected by the state’s highest court. “It seems like it’s all about real estate.”

The issue has taken on added significance since the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, citing declining attendance, rising costs, and a looming priest shortage, announced plans to merge scores of parishes and close dozens of churches this year.

Ending Implicit Bias

Peaceful protest in Manhattan's Union Square during the Trayvon Martin trial July 14, 2013, Marie Havens /

The other night in Central Park, three African-American young men were stopped by a police officer and asked if they had or were selling drugs. The answer was “No!” They were three students from Columbia University making their way from the East Side to the West. This tale unveils the problem of implicit bias in our society today.

The reason the three college students were stopped in Central Park was because they were “walking while being black.” Because of New York’s stop-and-frisk practice that targets black and brown young men, a growing number of African-American and Latino youth are being introduced into the New York state criminal justice system daily.

The statistics are staggering. African Americans are incarcerated at six times the rate of whites in the U.S. prison system. One out of every 15 African Americans over 18 years old are incarcerated, while 1 out of every 106 white males of the same age are incarcerated. In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander argues that there are more African Americans in the criminal justice system than were enslaved in 1865. As Jim Wallis has argued, racism is America’s original sin.

Greek Orthodox Launch Rebuilding of St. Nicholas, the Only Church Destroyed on 9/11

Archbishop Demetrios of America addresses the crowd during a ceremony Oct. 18. Photo by Sarah Pulliam Bailey/RNS.

Leaders of a Greek Orthodox church that was destroyed during the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center broke ground on a new St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church that will overlook the 9/11 Memorial.

The new domed building is scheduled to open in 2016, the same year as the church’s 100th anniversary. The church has raised $7 million of about $38 million needed.

Plans to rebuild the church were stalled by a dispute with the Port Authority of New York, which is in charge of overall rebuilding efforts at Ground Zero. Under an 2011 agreement brokered by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the church agreed to drop its lawsuit in return for building at a larger site.

On Oct. 18, government and church leaders joined on a concrete platform surrounded by steel foundation beams and orange construction netting to break ground for the church, designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

Patrick J. Foye, who was named earlier this year as executive director of the Port Authority, said the future building would be “an iconic house of worship,” comparable to the building of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in midtown.

Stanley Hauerwas Drops Out of General Theological Seminary Lecture Series After Controversy

Stanley Hauerwas. Photo © Duke University, Photography by Jim Wallace/RNS.

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has declined a series of lectures he was scheduled to give at New York’s General Theological Seminary in November in the wake of the crisis roiling the school.

On Oct. 8, the Christian ethicist said he does not want to get in the middle of a controversy involving the resignations or firings of eight faculty.

Two weeks ago, the eight faculty members quit teaching classes and attending official seminary meetings or chapel services until they could sit down with the Board of Trustees.

Hauerwas, who is professor emeritus of divinity and law at Duke Divinity School, said he pulled out of the lecture series so he would not appear to take a side.

“I was looking forward to going because I’ve known of General for my whole academic life, but I had never been there. At one time, it represented a commitment to an Anglo-Catholic tradition with which I’m very sympathetic,” said Hauerwas, who attends an Episcopal church in Chapel Hill, N.C. “I think the situation is one of deep pathos; it’s just pathetic. I’m sorry that I’ve gotten caught in it.”

Tensions at Episcopal Church’s Oldest Seminary Reflect Larger Crisis in Future of Theology Schools

General Theological Seminary From the Highline in New York City. Photo courtesy of Eden, Janine and Jim via Flickr/RNS.

Several faculty members at the Episcopal Church’s oldest seminary are battling with the school’s leadership, although neither side agrees whether they quit, were fired or staged a walkout.

General Theological Seminary in Manhattan is the only seminary overseen by the national church. Last week, eight faculty decided to stop teaching classes, attending official seminary meetings or attending chapel services until they could sit down with the Board of Trustees.

The dean and president, Kurt Dunkle, wrote a letter to students saying the Board of Trustees’ accepted the eight faculty members’ resignations. But faculty member Andrew Irving wrote to students saying the professors never suggested they would resign.

“We wish to underline that we have not resigned,” Irving wrote, suggesting the group sought legal counsel. “Our letters did not say that we would resign. We requested meetings with the Board.”

The Rev. Ellen Tillotson, an Episcopal priest in Connecticut and a GTS board member, wrote that it has become clear that the eight faculty have been planning a walkout.

Tim Keller’s Redeemer Church and Reformed Theological Seminary to Launch NYC Campus

The Reformed Theological Seminary campus in Jackson, Miss. Photo courtesy of Reformed Theological Seminary/RNS.

Redeemer Presbyterian Church, one of the most influential evangelical churches in the country led by author and speaker Tim Keller, has partnered with a Mississippi-based school to form a seminary campus in New York City in 2015.

The partnership between Redeemer and Reformed Theological Seminary fits in with the desire of evangelicals to plant their flag in large cities such as New York. It also reflects the influence of Reformed theology on evangelical thinking, as well as the impact of megachurches on theological education.

And while many seminaries are still suffering declining revenues since the economic crisis of 2008, the model of building campuses in major cities has proved successful for the Mississippi flagship seminary.

Students in the New York City campus will be trained to start churches by pursuing a two-year master’s of arts degree in biblical studies at $430-450 per credit hour before receiving another year of pastoral church planting education from Redeemer. The campus will likely launch in Redeemer’s offices near Herald Square in Manhattan.

Why We’re Building an Ark

Image courtesy Isaac Luria

Image courtesy Isaac Luria

On Sunday, Noah's Ark will be rolling through the streets of New York City.

Powered by a bio-diesel truck and paid for by faith-rooted climate activists, it will drive on Manhattan’s West Side alongside hundreds of thousands of climate activists calling for climate justice.

The ark appeared in a collective dream with other faith-rooted activists and organizers about how our wisdom traditions could speak to this urgent moment with radical creativity and dramatic flair.

The same old calls for action aren’t getting through. We don’t have much time to act, yet our world leaders lurch from crisis to crisis while the frog slowly boils in the pot. We are living through one of the greatest extinction in our planet’s history. And even if we did survive the Earth’s death by some technological miracle, what kind of life would that be?

We must help people see that climate disruption is real and that there are solutions. We need to help the media and our political leaders see this movement as truly multiracial, multigenerational, multifaith, and of many economic backgrounds.

Harlem's Influence on Bonhoeffer Underestimated in 'Strange Glory'

Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York City. Marco Rubino / Shutterstock.

Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York City. Marco Rubino /

Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is the second Bonhoeffer book by the University of Virginia religion scholar, Dr. Charles Marsh, whose many other books include analyses of civil rights figures and history. Marsh is himself a child of the south, and his authored works have centered on prominent figures who model a commitment to justice in the face of southern white supremacy. Strange Glory is no different. Marsh’s depiction of Bonhoeffer is the first cradle-to-grave biography to highlight the seminal nature of Bonhoeffer’s experience in America, with African Americans, for his prophetic resistance to Nazism. Marsh also speculates that Bonhoeffer harbored an unrequited longing for more than friendship from his student and closest friend, Eberhard Bethge. Yet, with Strange Glory, I find speculation about Bonhoeffer’s sexuality less intriguing than the question of what Marsh’s representation of Bonhoeffer intends to offer us today.

Bonhoeffer spent a significant amount of time in Harlem while he was a postdoctoral student in America at Union Theological Seminary during the 1930-31 school year. Bonhoeffer became a lay leader at Abyssinian Baptist Church, and many Bonhoeffer scholars believe that his time there was seminal for his prophetic Christian resistance to Nazis. Yet Bonhoeffer’s relationship with Harlem is somewhat ambiguous for the Bonhoeffer that Marsh constructs. Instead, he emphasizes Bonhoeffer’s travels through the Jim Crow South, positioning the south (or, southern blackness) over against the north or northern, Harlem blackness as the primary source of African-American Christian influence on Bonhoeffer.

In fact, Harlem blackness gets a bad rap in Marsh’s Bonhoeffer story with this juxtaposition of southern vs. northern blackness.